Ranga Shankara says the political thriller will be staged

The political thriller Ali J, which premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and was staged peacefully in Mumbai last year, has run into rough weather here with a right-wing group opposing the play for its “anti-national theme and communal content”.

The Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS) that describes itself as an organisation for the “establishment of a Hindu rashtra”, has been distributing pamphlets over the past few days with a detailed 14-point opposition to the play by Chennai-based performers’ group ‘Evam’.

On Tuesday, representatives of the samiti said they met with Ranga Shankara owner, Arundhati Nag, and appealed to her not to allow the “anti-Hindu” play to be staged.

Ranga Shankara representatives told The Hindu that the “show is on” as per schedule on Friday, but refused to divulge further details.

HJS coordinator Chandra Moger said the play was anti-national because the story justified the creation of Pakistan and made a hero out of Mohammed Ali Jinnah. He said that if the play was not withdrawn, they would lodge a complaint with the police.

Tamil actor and theatre person Karthik Kumar, who plays the lead character, argued that Ali J is a “deeply patriotic tale” that sets partition in the contemporary context. “If anything, it is a call for peace and secularism; there is nothing anti-national about it. It saddens me that because of some mischief makers, audiences are going to keep away,” he said, adding that he’s been receiving worried calls from those who have purchased tickets. “The central character Ali’s life is shadowed on the story of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, but that by itself doesn’t make a play anti-national,” he said. In a letter addressed to the owner of Ranga Shankara, HJS claimed the plot “hurt nationalistic feelings of Indians and may lead to communal riots”. It also took exception to the fact that the play shows Gandhi as a “scheming, opportunistic person and very anti-Muslim”, and that the central character “makes Bharati [who the samiti claims represents India] pregnant before marriage”.

The J.P. Nagar police said they had not received any complaint from the theatre or HJS.

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